By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
I’m a big fan of Korean cinema. For the size of the country, the amount of master-level directors coming out of here is stunning, and as unique as their talents are, there’s a dark, twisted, clever through-line to their work that always assures you that you’re watching a Korean film.
Sometimes, it’s pretty much the whole movie
Kim Ki-Young’s 1960 classic, The Housemaid, is where that all started. Kim Jin-Kyu stars as a married piano teacher at a girl’s school who keeps attracting unwanted suitors, because this blandly handsome family man is apparently the most desirable guy in Korea. When his wife requests a housemaid to help her out in her late pregnancy, he asks one smitten student to recruit one for him. Surprise! This girl also wants the D, and she’s crazier than the rest of them put together.
This movie does so, so much right, but in the end is entertaining from precisely the wrong reasons. It’s very well-shot, often inventively so, and the ending in particular is a nice creative touch possibly signaling a shy self-awareness. Possibly.
One thing I can say is that the film is much more daring both in subject matter and execution than anything Hollywood was putting out in 1960. Sex is a thing. Nipples! Women smoke. Maybe even they drive. The sky’s the limit. The acting is also good, with Lee Eun-Shim genuinely creepy as hell. My fave, though, is Little Changsoon, who’d give Prince Joffrey a run for his money in the burgeoning sociopath department. He’s hilarious.
The problems start from the premise. Mr. Kim’s dick must grant wishes (So… he’s a Penie Genie?). All womenfolk are powerless before it, much to his chagrin. In fact, they’d rather die than not have it. Needless to say, this might be the most misogynistic movie I’ve ever seen.
In The Housemaid, the grapefruit-facing is “symbolic”.
While it’s tempting to view this as a satire, the deadly, earnestly serious script makes it clear that it’s not. It’s basically an anti-cheating PSA that acknowledges the impossibility of not cheating… You know, what with all the young, nubile girls throwing themselves at you. The script is also full of non-sequitur nonsense and unintentional laughs. It’s great.
This year, I saw someone refer to August: Osage County as “an overacting competition, and everyone wins!” That’s amateur hour compared to this film. This is a soap opera overacting competition, and yes, everyone wins.
Days of Our Lives: now that’s some next-level shit
One of my favorite parts of the film is when the husband blames his infidelity on his wife’s request for a new house. Without that new house, he wouldn’t have needed to hire that sexy, crazy housemaid. Even better, at the end the wife exclaims “I shouldn’t have asked for that house!” Because yes, that is the lesson to take away from this.
An alternative lesson, based on the direct correlation in the film between women smoking and lose morality, is “Don’t start smoking. It leads to hot sex, illegitimate babies, staircase abortions, multiple attempted and realized murders, and suicide. Seriously folks, don’t start smoking (if you’re a woman).
The seeds that would grow into Oldboy, Pieta, A Tale of Two Sisters, and practically every other classic of modern Korean cinema were sewn here. That alone is reason enough to give it a watch, but if you need another, melodramas don’t get any more hilariously, unintentionally entertaining than this. An exceptionally well made catastrophe.
Take a Drink: whenever cigarettes = sex
Take a Drink: every time the wife screams
Take a Drink: for rats
Take a Drink: for sexy piano time
Take a Drink: every time a woman throws herself at the composer
Take a Drink: whenever infidelity is talked about or occurs
Do a Shot: whenever little Changsoon acts like a dick